Martin Lea Brown: Fools Gold
Upstairs, Sartorial Art, Kings Cross,
Downstairs, Sartorial Art,
Both Dec 19-20 2008, Jan 13 – Feb 4 2009
All photos: NoLionsInEngland
Imagine a line between the mean streets of Kings Cross and the regency drawing rooms of Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury, and somewhere along that line physically and spiritually you will find both the Martin Lea Brown show and the raffish rogues populating his paintings.
Two shows, three identities – that’s the Martin Lea Brown show upstairs at Sartorial Art, Sweet Toof showing downstairs and of course, a mere 2 months ago Sweet Toof was a significant part of the Burning Candy crew show at the same venue.
What separates the two rooms is readily identifiable, it’s those teef and gums ever present for Sweet Toof and missing in action for MLB. A hell of a lot unites the two rooms, stylistically and even thematically so you can see a sort of logic in putting these two artists on in parallel.
Martin Lea Brown
Every MLB picture in this show is constructed around the tension of a crime prosecuted, the aftermath of a villainous episode or a violent moment captured. Crimes involving bank heists, hostage taking, GBH and extortion are captured in very dynamic freizes. Virtually every picture involves a gun and a perpetrator and some form of disguise.
The crims’ disguises range from simple clown’s face paint to animal masks, skull masks and outlandish wigs. Crooks in the MLB world come stylishly dressed in various ensembles including patent black brogues, jackets, white blouses and heavy trench coats. They carry out their nefarious deeds with a stylish panache which calls to mind the Ex-Presidents of Point Break
All of the low-life subjects are male and the virility enhancing effect of a hand pistol is most obviously thrust in the viewer’s face in After Math, a picture whose title baffles but punctuation puzzle is as likely a gallery typo as an intended conundrum, in which the cocked pistol becomes a shadow’s cock.
The MLB painting style is a heavy and rich combination of colours, the thickly applied oil positively glows on the canvas.
In the other show, Sweet Toof goes hell for leather with the familiar ST motifs, the skull, the gums and the teef. The same luminous oil on canvas technique a la MLB is used to celebrate an underground life, a life of crimes committed, art created and penances paid. Whilst the street artist works in a murky borderline illegal art gallery, Sweet Toof plays merrily with the emergence of the clandestine painter out of such shadows and into the gaze of the art world. In Studio Crits, the dandified painter is grandiously presenting his latest work to a set of critics gathered around a plush velvet armchair, one of whom is evidently not impressed. The tools of the studio lie close to hand, the gallerists grin with avarice whilst the evidence of the artist’s street credentials lies tucked away, discarded perhaps, in the background.
The gums and skulls which recur in the street work of the Burning Candy crew are given props in several paintings in the show. The heavy horn-rims of the glasses in Toof Pick may be an element of self-portraiture, the bowl of red liquid on the table may signify the conspirators giving blood for their cause but check the lush looping detail of the background. Gorgeous.
A challenge in dealing with the two shows is the quantity of work, the similarities in style and even subject matter. Perhaps the application of the paint in Sweet Toof’s work in the skulls, the guns and some of the clothing is a bit flatter and more block-like than the MLB paintings, suggestive of a Manet figurative style. It is amusing to imagine this is a result of the skulls and gums being developed on the streets where speed is more precious than toning and interplays of light and shade
These two shows underline the energy, humour, colour and technique in MLB and Sweet Toof’s work , the work bursts away from the narrow definitions of the street art purists. The talent of both will most inevitably rise further, regardless even of the imminent bursting of the “urban art” bubble.
With between 55 and 60 pieces of work displayed over the two shows there is far more than can be showcased here, a visit to the photo collection for MLB and Sweet Toof is commended. Best of all, catch the shows when they re-open at the same location from 16 January to the 31st.